BARCELONA, Spain — When it comes to the connectivity layer of the Internet of Things (IoT), there are a number of networks and network technologies competing for customers. From cellular networks to low-power wide area (LPWA) networks to proprietary networks, all are aggressively expanding to accommodate customers. At the same time, enterprise customers are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of IoT and are looking for solutions.
“There’s a global land grab going on right now,” said John Horn, CEO of Ingenu, which uses a proprietary technology called random phase multiple access (RPMA). “We are getting thousands of in-bound calls,” Horn said during an interview at Mobile World Congress 2017 last week. “Enterprises and solutions providers want something other than cellular.”
Horn added that some of the influx of companies looking for IoT solutions is coming from firms that have been using cellular 2G networks for their connectivity. AT&T shut down its 2G network in early 2017. Verizon plans to make a similar move in 2019.
For companies like Ingenu, which uses RPMA, and Sigfox, which uses narrowband (or ultra-narrowband) technology called binary phase-shift keying (BPSK), this rush to secure a global footprint is crucial to competing with the cellular networks and their existing coverage areas.
At year-end, Ingenu was deployed in 32 markets, most of which are in Texas, Florida, and California. Sigfox is currently in about 100 markets in the U.S., including Houston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, and Atlanta.
Horn said that globally it’s much easier to build a network because there are fewer siting and permitting issues overseas than there are in the U.S. “I can deploy a site in a day,” Horn said “We have a small footprint, and we use existing towers.”
For Sigfox, some of the deployment issues can be streamlined by working with alternative companies instead of the traditional tower firms. For example, the company will work with a billboard firm to deploy base stations and antennas on billboards around a city. “We have managed to have a rapid buildout,” said Allen Proithis, president of North America at Sigfox.
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Cellular IoT Networks
The U.S. cellular operators AT&T and Verizon have committed to LTE CAT-M (also known as LTE-M or CAT-M1) technology. Verizon has said it will have LTE CAT-M deployed nationwide by the end of first quarter. AT&T will have the technology available throughout most of its network by mid-year.
T-Mobile US CTO Neville Ray said last week at Mobile World Congress that the operator will be deploying another cellular standard called narrowband LTE (NB-LTE), but did not give a timeline for that deployment.
Sigfox touts its low-cost modules with a long battery life as an advantage to cellular networks. Proithis said that Sigfox modules are less than $3 per module and have a “predictable” battery life because the modules are not always pinging the network and therefore are not draining the battery. “We are a mass adoption mechanism for IoT,” Proithis said.
Proithis added that the company’s technology is intended for low data rates in the 600 b/s range.
Ingenu’s Horn said that cities are very interested in Ingenu’s technology for their smart city deployments, and those deployments are fast because the cities will give Ingenu access to their street lights and buildings to deploy their RPMA equipment.